Cupcake Science – The Fizz Factor

Time 30 minutes
Age 7 & up
Group Size 4 or more
Tags Chemistry, Cooking, Cupcakes

Why do we put baking powder or baking soda in cake?

Cooking activities are filled with great learning opportunities. Along with measurement and math skills, kids can develop problem solving and literacy skills as well. By experimenting with the ways that certain ingredients act and react with each other, children will gain an understanding of basic cooking chemistry, and by isolating these reactions, kids can become more knowledgeable bakers.


This activity is a follow up to Cupcake Science. If you have not yet completed that activity, try it first, then move on to this activity.

Make sure you have both hot and cold water for this activity. Separate the ingredients into cups so that each team has a set. For the first activity, each team will need a cup of baking powder, cold water, milk, oil and vinegar. Label the cups using the tape and markers, especially for the baking powder, baking soda and flour, which look a lot alike, as do the vinegar and water. Each team will only need about 1/4 cup of each ingredient.

Cupcake Science – The Fizz Factor

Suggested Materials

  • Flour (one 5-pound bag)
  • Baking Powder (1 box)
  • Baking Soda (1 box)
  • Vegetable oil (1-2 cups)
  • Water (cold and hot)
  • Vinegar
  • Large ice cube trays (10) OR sheets of aluminum foil if ice cube trays are not available (See “Make it Happen”)
  • Plastic spoons (20)
  • 9-ounce cups (50)
  • Milk
  • Dish washing detergent
  • Pencils

Make it Matter

Opening Discussion

Refer to your students’ experiences baking cupcakes in the Cupcake Science activity. What role do they think the baking powder played? What would a cupcake made without baking powder look like?

The Challenge

Can you experiment with different ingredients to figure out why we use baking powder or baking soda when we bake?


Make it Happen

Doing the Activity

  1. Separate children into teams of 3. Give each team a set of cups with ingredients in them, 3 plastic spoons, an ice cube tray and a cafeteria tray or bin to place the ice cube tray on or newspaper to cover the tables. Teams will be mixing ingredients in the ice cube trays. If you do not have these trays, you can have them mix them together on square sheets of aluminum foil. You might have them create 2″ circles or squares with marker to designate mixing spaces. Make sure that each team has paper and pencils and that at least 1 child is recording their results.
  2. Ask your students to mix ingredients together in the ice cube tray compartments or on the aluminum foil and record anything they notice about how the ingredients act/react to each other. Have them pay special attention to the baking powder and how it reacted with all of the other ingredients. They’ll only need to use small amounts—approximately 1/2 a spoonful for each ice cube compartment is fine.

Make it Click

Let’s Talk About It

After 10-15 minutes, stop your students and bring them together to share their observations with each other. Draw a grid on a piece of chart paper or on a chalkboard with all of the ingredients in the columns and the rows as well (see Figure 1).

Ask each team what they observed when they mixed the ingredients together. Record their observations in the grid. For example, if baking powder and vinegar turned fizzy, write “fizzy” in the box where vinegar and baking powder meet (see below). If nothing happened, write “nothing” in the box.

Fill the grid with your students’ observations. Did everyone come to the same conclusions? Do they have any guesses as to what role baking powder plays in their cupcake recipes? Are there any other ingredients they would like to try mixing to see what happens?


Make it Better

Build On What They Talked About

Let your students experiment some more, and introduce some new ingredients. Ask each team to clean out their ice cube trays, then offer them hot water (not too hot!), flour and baking soda and anything else they want to experiment with. Make sure they note the differences between baking powder and baking soda. Does one react to some ingredients that the other does not? Does the hot water react differently than the cold water? When they have completed their experiments, make another grid that includes these new ingredients.


  • Try another experiment if you have time­—hand out 2 cups of hot water to each group. Add about 1 teaspoon of dishwashing detergent like Joy or Dawn to 1 of the cups and stir. Add a tablespoon of baking powder to both cups and stir with separate spoons. What happens? Both cups make bubbles, but the soap helps to “trap” the bubbles. This is somewhat like what is happening with the cupcakes—the sticky dough traps the bubbles made by the baking powder reacting with the milk in the batter, making a fluffy cupcake.
  • Your students may notice that baking powder reacts to the milk, vinegar and water, while the baking soda will only react to certain ingredients. Baking soda needs an acid (like vinegar) to react—baking powder has baking soda in it, but also contains an acid already—all it needs is water to mix them up and make bubbles.
  • Now that kids have experimented with the ingredients, have them assess their recipes from the first Cupcake Science activity and create new recipes in the Cupcake Science – Improve Your Recipe activity.
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